Since I fell in love with hiking and heard about the Appalachian Trail, it has always been a bit of a romantic notion of mine to conquer this almost 2,200 mile trail. While at the bookstore the other day, I came across the book A Walk in the Woods by the notorious travel writer Bill Bryson. Bryson, along with an old friend of his, decided to take on this massive and iconic American Trail that passes through 14 states, with very little training or experience at the age of 44.
Bryson has a wonderful writing style filled with hilarious anecdotes, emotional moments, revelations and interesting facts and history about the regions he hiked through.
“It was hell. First days on hiking trips always are. I was hopelessly out of shape – hopelessly. The packed weighed way too much. Way too much. I never encountered anything so hard, for which I was so ill prepared. Every step was a struggle.”
“A significant fraction of thru-hikers reach Katahdin, then turn around and start back to Georgia. They just can’t stop walking, which kind of makes you wonder. In fact, the more you read about thru-hikers the more you end up being filled with a kind of wonder. Take Bill Irwin, the blind man. After his hike he said: ‘I never enjoyed the hiking part. It was something I felt compelled to do. It wasn’t my choice.” Or David Horton, the ultra-runner who set the speed record in 1991. By his own account, he became ‘a mental and emotional wreck’ and spent most of the period crossing Main weeping copiously… I don’t mean to suggest that hiking the AT drives you potty, just that it takes a certain kind of person.”
“I thought for a moment, unsure. I had some to realize that I didn’t have nay feelings towards the AT that weren’t confused and contradictory. I was weary of the trail, but strongly in its thrall; found the endless slog tedious but irresistible; grew tired of the boundless words but admired their boundlessness; enjoyed the escape from civilization and ached for its comforts. I wanted to quit and do this forever, sleep in a bed and in a tent, see what was over the next hill and never see a hill again. All of this at once, every moment, on the trail or off.”
Bryson’s tale is honest and being so is such an inspiration to someone who would love to try to take on this trail. He shares stories of poor decisions, dealing with annoying hikers, struggling with his travel partner and learning the right way to do things on the trail (like what foods to pack and eat). Although Bryson discovered pretty early on that they would not be joining the exclusive club of thru-hikers (hikers that hike the AT straight through) he still took on as much of it as possible, even taking it in day-trip style sections at one point. Even though it isn’t a story of the thru-hiker it is incredibly entertaining, informative and enlightening. It is a must-read piece of travel writing for the hiker, whether you’re a day hiker or an outdoor aficionado.
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